This book is a first for me; it’s a Japanese light fiction novel which is something that I’ve never read before, but having explored this hitherto unknown region of literature I can tell you I’ll definitely be reading more. To put it simply, I loved this book. You could probably stop reading right now, and go off and order your own copy on the strength of my opinion, but I know that at least some of you will want to know why I loved it.
To explain that, I’ll give you a brief synopsis of the book. In the near-to-mid future and alien race begins an invasion of Earth. In order to fight these powerful alien aggressors the Jacket is built, a powerful infantry exoskeleton a bit like a cross between a Marine from Starcraft and the Knightmare Frames of Code Geass. Keiji Kiriya is a fresh-out-of-basic Jacket pilot who’s basically meat for the grinder, and true to form he dies in his first battlefield outing. But he awakes 48 hours before his death and lives out that day again, stuck in a loop where his death simply results in his rebirth at 48 hours earlier (a la Groundhog Day, but with more guns). Then he meets the Full Metal Bitch, a legendary Jacket pilot who seems to be the key to breaking the loop and either living again, or finally dying.
One of the things that worried me about the book (before I read it) was that it had been translated. I had visions of clunky, awkward blocks of text that would ruin the flow of the narrative (not unlike some fansubs I’ve seen…), but as it turns out, my fears were unfounded. The translation by Alexander O. Smith is smooth, and whether he’s taken liberties with the original or not, it works.
The whole book reads like an anime, which is not much use as a description if you’re not an anime fan, so allow me to try this instead; you know the cartoons you used to watch as a kid? Y’know, like Transformers, X-Men, TMNT etc? Well it’s like them, but without all the goofy silliness and with more attitude and general badassery. It’s fast paced, but not rushed. You don’t feel like you’re missing out on details or racing through the story, but it doesn’t get bogged down in needlessly fleshing out background characters or scenarios. In fact, only two characters are really developed at all – those of Keiji and the Full Metal Bitch. But despite how this sounds, it doesn’t detract. This is a light novel, not some Tolkien-esque tome. It’s designed to be read through in a few days, not be studied over the course of months. Fleshing out background characters or filling pages with in-depth descriptions would be pointless baggage for this book.
However, whilst being lightweight and quick to read, it touches on some pretty deep subjects – mortality, love, sacrifice, what it means to be alive. But it does only touch on them. It hints at things, and drops casual suggestions about the nature of Human interactions and leaves you to ponder them later. or indeed, not, depending on your tastes!
The brevity of the book really works in its favour (although a sequel would be pretty awesome), but it makes me very nervous about something recently announced; Hollywood is making it into a film. Starring the Anti Christ himself, Tom Cruise. Even ignoring the fact that Hollywood will probably destroy the essence of the book and turn it into a soulless facsimile (Transformers anyone?), they’re going to make a film out of a book that has only two real characters. I get the horrible, horrible feeling that there will be unnecessary sub-plots and tangents stuffed into the film to fill it up, all of which will detract from the slick central storyline. But enough about that!
In conclusion, I loved it. If you like sci-fi, mecha, anime, or just fancy a quick read, then I cannot recommend this book strongly enough
Ranking: 5 out of 5